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Gruden has had eight different starting quarterbacks. The offensive line and wide receivers that helped the Bucs win Super Bowl XXXVII are no longer in Tampa Bay. Neither are Pro Bowl defensive stars like defensive tackle Warren Sapp, safety John Lynch, linebacker Shelton Quarles and defensive end Simeon Rice.
In fact, only eight players – fullback Mike Alstott, linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, running back Michael Pittman, safety Jermaine Phillips and defensive end Greg Spires – remain from the Bucs’ Super Bowl team.
The salary cap hell that Tampa Bay endured after it hoisted the Lombardi Trophy played a significant role in the jettisoning of several players and fan favorites.
However, Bucs general manager Bruce Allen and senior assistant Kevin Demoff, along with the rest of Tampa Bay’s front office, have executed a four-year plan that has successfully gotten the Bucs out of cap hell. Much-needed cap relief allowed the 2-1 Bucs to sign key contributors for reasonable prices this offseason, including quarterback Jeff Garcia, fullback B.J. Askew, left tackle Luke Petitgout, defensive lineman Kevin Carter and linebacker Cato June.
Despite coming off a 4-12 season and having money to spend in free agency, the Bucs were extremely responsible spenders during the offseason, evidenced by the fact that the largest signing bonus they dished out to any player in free agency was $3 million.
As a result, Bucs are currently $17 million under the league-mandated salary cap and are projected to be approximately $30 million under the cap in 2008.
Even better is the fact that the biggest names on the Bucs’ free-agent-to-be list are fullback Mike Alstott, running back Michael Pittman, tight ends Anthony Becht and Jerramy Stevens, cornerback Sammy Davis, defensive tackle Ryan Sims, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, wide receiver Mark Jones and center John Wade. Only two players – Becht and Wade – are currently starters.
If the Bucs want one or even all of those players back they shouldn’t have a difficult time re-signing any of them.
But that doesn’t mean Tampa Bay’s roster set is set for this season and the foreseeable future. Even if the 2-1 Bucs surprise the league and win the NFC South division in 2007, the replenishing process likely will continue to take place.
That’s because the Bucs might need to find replacements for several coaches who are believed to be in the final year of their contracts, including defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, assistant head coach/running backs coach Art Valero and special teams coach Richard Bisaccia, and find successors for several aging players through free agency and/or the NFL Draft over the next year or two. Take a look for yourself.
QB Jeff Garcia- Turns 38 in February of 2008
WR Joey Galloway – Turns 36 in November of 2007
LB Derrick Brooks – Turns 35 in April of 2008
DE Kevin Carter – Turns 35 in September of 2008
FB Mike Alstott – Turns 34 in December of 2007
DE Greg Spires – Turns 34 in August of 2007
C John Wade – Turns 33 in January of 2008
CB Ronde Barber – Turns 33 next April
RB Michael Pittman – Turns 33 in August of 2008
LT Luke Petitgout – Turns 32 in June of 2008
CB Brian Kelly – Turns 32 in January of 2008
WR Ike Hilliard – Turns 32 in April of 2008
K Matt Bryant – Turns 33 in May of 2008
P Josh Bidwell – Turns 32 in March of 2008
The playing careers of kickers and punters typically lasts longer than that of any other position in the NFL, so the Bucs might not have to necessarily replace Bryant or Bidwell in the next year or two, especially since both players are off to great starts this season. That said, let’s leave Bryant and Bidwell out of the equation.
The oldest player on Tampa Bay’s roster is Garcia, but you wouldn’t know it by the way he’s playing. Garcia, 37, has completed 66.2 percent of his passes for 595 yards and tossed two touchdowns and no interceptions through three games. While he’s Gruden’s prototype quarterback, Garcia won’t be able to play forever. In fact, he turns 38 in February and is only under contract through the 2008 season.Â
How do the Bucs replace Galloway if and when he decides to hang up his helmet or when the aging process makes that decision for him? Galloway has caught 158 passes for 2,593 yards and 19 touchdowns over the past 35 regular season games. The Bucs have a 2004 first-round pick and a 2006 third-round selection invested in wide receivers Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall, respectively. However, neither player has Galloway’s speed nor have they demonstrated anything that comes close to resembling No. 84’s playmaking ability over the past two years.Â
Brooks isn’t playing like he’s 34 right now, but he’s not in his prime, either. Age will eventually catch up with him. That day is coming sooner rather than later. Tampa Bay will be hard pressed to replace a player and leader like Brooks, who has made 10 straight Pro Bowls. However, the Bucs do feel like his successor is on their current roster.
Carter has notched 98 career sacks and provides the Bucs with some versatility along the defensive line as well as leadership in the locker room. Like Brooks, Carter turns 35 next year, which puts him in the twilight of his career. One of the players he’s been spending quite a bit of time rotating with – Spires – turns 34 next year.Â
Alstott is on injured reserve with his second neck injury since 2003, which has many believing his historic career with the Buccaneers has come to an end, especially since he turns 34 in December and is in the final year of his contract. The good news for the Bucs is they signed Askew during the offseason. He’s proven to be a productive fullback for the Bucs through three games. The problem is Alstott might not be the only back whose days as a Buc are numbered.Â
Most of the pieces along Tampa Bay’s offensive line appear to be in place with rookie left guard Arron Sears and second-year right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. However, the Bucs will need to find a future starting left tackle and center to succeed Petitgout and Wade, respectively, over the next few years. Wade turns 33 in January and is in the final year of his contract with the Bucs. Tampa Bay attempted to replace Wade during the offseason by moving 2005 fourth-round draft pick Dan Buenning over from guard to center and signing free agent Matt Lehr. To Wade’s credit, he held both Buenning and Lehr, who signed a one-year contract, off and kept the starting job.Â
Tampa Bay’s dynamic duo of Barber and Kelly at cornerback has been intact for nearly a decade, but the Bucs have to start thinking about the future with Barber turning 33 and Kelly turning 32 next year. The Bucs attempted to find a successor for one of those players when they invested a fourth-round pick in Alan Zemaitis last year, but he flopped and was released by the Bucs before the start of the regular season.
Roster turnover is just part of the NFL. Every team has to deal and prepare for it due to the fact that players don’t play forever and the salary cap doesn’t normally allow teams to hold on to all of their good players.
Should Tampa Bay continue to have success in 2007 and go on to win the NFC South division, Bucs fans better enjoy it while they can. This team, for the most part, could be kept intact for another year or two, but change at some key positions on Tampa Bay’s roster appears to be inevitable.Â
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